And now, I want you to meet someone I greatly admire, for the beauty and resilience of her spirit and the way she sees and loves and makes art. The first time I met her, we were in the fifth grade, still climbing trees, playing dress up and creating worlds with our imaginations. The next time I found her was in this online world, and she was a gorgeous grown woman with a breathtaking daughter and a burgeoning photography business. This woman exudes grace and weaves stories through photography that stir a place beyond words, drawing out the magical and majestic essence of everyday life through the eyes of an artist who doesn't miss what the real treasure is. And to top it off, she is also a compelling storyteller with her words. You can lose yourself for hours in her work over at Simply Splendid, but for now, it's my honor to introduce my friend, Marla Cyree.
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Mother’s Day 2014 was a lovely and relaxing day spent with my daughter on one of the prettiest days of the year we’ve had yet, but it was also a day rippled with internal conflict. Why would I be conflicted on a glorious and relaxing spring day celebrating mothers across the nation? Reason: in no way did I want to connect with my own mother on Mother’s Day. Admittedly, I did send her a little note card the Friday before. In it I wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I hope you have a nice day. Love, Marla.” Basically the most generic of greetings lacking in personal tribute or sincerity. After writing it out, it sat on my desk and I wrestled with myself internally about the whole thing.
--You must send it. It’s the right thing to do.
--On the other hand, is it unkind to send such a note? Is there anything better I could have said instead?
--No. Anything else would be forced and contrived.
--If you don’t send it, surely you will have to call her on Mother’s Day...
So off to the post office I went with my little card that contained a pathetic attempt at a nice Mother’s Day greeting. But my duty was done and she would be appeased.
This isn’t how I really want my relationship with my mother to be at this point in my life, but it is better than it has been in times past. I’m actually not even sure if better is the right word, but surely to the standards of others, the sort of contact we have is better than no contact at all? It feels lacking in honor though. So I grapple with how do I extend honor to a woman who has been hurtful and hateful towards me the majority of my life. How do I protect myself and have safe boundaries, yet have affection toward her when just days before she tore into me about what a horrible, unkind, selfish person I was... that she would almost rather that I was never born than be the person I am today? The woman who sent me 20 text messages at 2:30am just nights before, angry about a thing I said to her 30 years ago (I’m only 32) and what a trial I’ve made her life since I was born. I’m still hearing the same story about how I ruined her life... the one I’ve been hearing since I was 4 years old. What do I do with it all at this point? I still don’t know, after all these years, I still really don't know.
One of the first commandments was “to honor your father and mother.” Over and over again the Bible offers verses and commandments where God has told us to honor and obey our parents. It even promises that when we do honor our parents that life “will go well for us” and that it is pleasing to Him when we honor them. The Bible also offers many consequences for when we don’t--like trouble and death for instance. How do I honor her? I feel as though I’m in this stalemate position. I know God sees her hurt and my hurt and is broken-hearted for us. I know this is not His vision or desire for us. Yet it remains and I feel that any way I turn is at the point of a knife nearly piercing my flesh. It hurts. Being her daughter hurts... even at 32. Perhaps what I have to offer at this time is honoring. I don't know really. It isn't how I'd like it to be, but maybe it's enough. It's certainly all I have to give at this time.
How am I managing our relationship right now? First, I choose to peacefully not engage with her when she is hurtful. Do her words still hurt? Yes. Is it effective? I'm not sure. Secondly, I pray for her and for us. It is hard. I have found it to be a struggle to sincerely pray for someone who feels like my enemy. It’s not easy and I tend to get easily distracted during that time, so I could be better at this. Third, I try really hard to have grace for her. Over and over and over again. I remember where she’s come from, what she struggles with, I have compassion. I I try to extend little olive branches at arms length, even if I don’t feel inclined or want to. Lastly, I forgive her. Forgiveness seems like a sticky thing. I have to keep doing it--for things she’s done, things she hasn’t done, and things she continues to do. But the forgiveness has been the most life-giving part. It has kept me from bitterness and has allowed me to be different than her, thanks to God’s grace. I am so glad He can see my heart and that He loves me, that He saved and rescued me from my despair so I can be who I am today. I am beyond grateful that He has sustained me and helped me see beyond my circumstances, beyond my mother. I am grateful for His redemption, that the enemy hasn’t won despite attempts to break me. I am grateful for the hope He has given me since I was a very small girl. And I am grateful that He has always been with me, that He has held me through all my hurt, that He caught every grief-stricken tear.
I used to wish for a different family, a different mother. I would imagine myself as a new person and create a whole new life for myself. I fantasized about what it would feel like to belong to that different family, to live in that life. Each imagined family was peaceful and loving, uplifting and kind. These fantasies brought momentary solace to my shattered heart, but only offered a short-lived peace, as fantasies do I suppose.
As much as I’d just love a really great mother, the birth of my own daughter has felt like the realization of my dream for a new family. I see my beautiful, healthy, and very special relationship with my daughter as a sort of redemption. I am far from perfect, but I am a great mother. I have learned so much from watching other great mothers and by knowing what not to do by my own mother’s example (and if that is the only positive result, I'm content with that). My daughter is so very loved, and not a moment in her life has she ever thought otherwise. Our family is peaceful and loving, uplifting and kind, and she is completely secure in those values. It brings me true joy to know that she will never feel what I have felt and I praise God there is a new legacy starting from the two of us! And deep down I know it is God’s heart for true healing between my mother and me. I’d love to see that also. I honestly don’t know what that looks like anymore, but I’ll continue to hope for it.
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For more tales of beauty in this series: